Urban Public Education

Just returned from a great panel discussion at NYU entitled Looking Ahead: What is working in New York City for Educating Our Children?  As one might imagine from such a title, there were amazing and thoughtful conversations happening, some of which bring out strong opinions from the audience. 

To keep this short, here are the six biggest thoughts that resonated with me:

1. While we are doing a good job of recruiting passionate people to teach in NYC public schools, we really need to make sure we provide them with a high level of quality preparation for the field. 

2.  While some schools are failing or teachers are struggling, there are multiple and varied successful schools and master teachers out there that struggling schools and teachers can learn from.  The problem is in the lack of networking created or encouraged by the DOE. 

I pause here for a shout out to Math for America.  As it continues to grow and adjust to the needs of the teachers in the NYC public school system, the organization is working hard to fully prepare passionate teachers and network those who are struggling with those who can provide help.  Go MfA!

3. In addition to quality instruction, what students want is a teacher who cares about them on an individual level, believes in them and develops strong relationships.  What students remember is when the teacher played the role of counselor/advisor/parent/mentor more so than the quality of math activities.

4. While we use our passion to try to help close the achievement gap and give students who have very little a whole lot of hope, we need to be honest with our students about the reality.  We need to let them know that there is a disparity between public schools and expensive private schools, and if our students want to succeed, then they have to “run twice as fast.”

5. The structure of our school and the school day has not been updated too much since we upgraded from the one-room school house.  What new structures can we imagine?  What would best serve the students in an urban school?  Has anyone ever asked students what they wish their education looked like?  Can we extend the school day without extending the work put on teachers?

6. This question may be more relevant to NYC than many other places: can neighborhood schools work?  They often work in the suburbs and help strengthen a community.  Why have we moved away from this in NYC and can we find a way to productively return to this concept?

I have to end with two last thoughts.  The first is a quote shared by one of the panelists on tracking:

“Tracks are only a problem if the tracks lead nowhere.”

Second, as a follow up question, what are your thoughts, dear reader, of what the current city administration (i.e. Bloomberg) has done to better the public school system in NYC?  As well as thoughts on any of the six points I listed.

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One response to “Urban Public Education

  1. “Tracks are only a problem if the tracks lead nowhere.”

    As cool as this sounds, it’s just not true. Jo Boaler wrote well about why tracking is bad for students. Untracked classes may be hard to do well, but make a big difference for learners at all levels.

    Students who struggle more learn from those who struggle less. ‘Good’ math students learn more deeply when they need to communicate their understanding. The way to make mixed groups work well is to use open-ended questions that get students thinking at lots of different levels. I wrote a post about ‘complex instruction’ which gets at some of this.

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